4 Reasons To Watch Golden Globe Winner “Mozart In The Jungle”

There were quite a few surprises during last night’s Golden Globe Awards, with a numbers of newcomers taking home big awards, including Rachel Bloom from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend nabbing Best Actress in a TV Comedy, Brie Larson snatching Best Actress In A Motion Picture Drama for her brilliant turn in Room, and the low profile Amazon comedy Mozart in the Jungle inspiring a whole lot of confusion with its win for Best TV Comedy. What’s up with this little show that beat out fan favorites and critical darlings like VEEP and Transparent? The half-hour long show premiered its second season on December 30, so clearly you’ve got some catching up to do. Now, I’m still in the midst of watching the show myself, but after four episodes, here are my first impressions.

1. It’s a cool and comedic approach to a Dry and Very Serious Topic: classical music. Set in a fictionalized New York City, the show is a behind-the-scenes look at the city’s symphony just as its new eccentric and brilliant conductor is making his debut. Classical music — especially live classical music — is probably not a primary passion for a demographic that’s hooked on Spotify and has traded cable for online streaming, but Mozart in the Jungle is all about embracing a high-brow/low-brow dichotomy.

The show’s credits are decidedly cool: the show is produced by Roman Coppola (son of Francis, brother of Sofia, sometimes-creative partner of Wes Anderson), and stars Y Tu Mama Tambien’s Gael Garcia Bernal as hot shit conductor Rodrigo, as well as It Girl Lola Kirke (sister to Girls’ Jemima) and indie mainstay Jason Schwartzman (also of the Coppola Dynasty). This hipness is underscored by the show’s sharp, comedic writing, quirky characters and scenes that take the characters from the hallowed halls of the symphony to the stairwells of a Bushwick loft party.

2. It’s based on a critically-acclaimed memoir of the same name by American oboist Blair Tindall. Subtitled Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, Tindall’s book was heralded for enterting “the sacred temple of classical music–for so long shrouded in mystery, off-limits to critical examination” and emerging “with [a] tale of a non-profit ‘industry’ bent on self destruction.” Scandalous! And how convenient that you can buy the book on Amazon after you’re done watching.

3. The characters break the mold of familiar archetypes. Similar to that of films like Center Stage or shows like Smash, Mozart in the Jungle possesses certain trademarks of Hollywood’s usual storytelling about high-art institutions, including the symphony’s newly retired longtime conductor Thomas, a cantankerous traditionalist (played by Malcolm McDowell) who balks at Rodrigo’s decision to “shake things up,” and Kirke’s role as Hailey, a talented ingenue who’s given a shot at her big break and is determined not to screw it up.

But Mozart also subverts stereotypes of the genre. Saffrow Burrows plays Cynthia, a long-time cellist with the orchestra, who makes ends meet by appearing in an off-Broadway show with that grotesque American Idol vampire Constantine Maroulis. Cynthia is a sultry single who does her share of bed-hopping — including getting between the sheets with both Thomas and his foil, Rodrigo — but while she’s struggling with the pains of growing older in a world that celebrates youth, she’s hardly motivated by desperation or ambition. And while the genre almost always pits the two female leads against each other, motivated by competition and jealousy, Cynthia and Hailey are actually friends, with the former taking the latter under her wing. How wonderfully refreshing!

4. The casting is spot-on. Gael Garcia Bernal also scooped up a gold statue at the Golden Globes for Best Actor in a TV Comedy for his performance as Rodrigo — and it’s well-deserved. I’ve always enjoyed Bernal as an actor, but he’s best known for his mostly dramatic roles in foreign language films like Y Tu Mama Tambien, Amores Perros and The Motorcycle Diaries. But he’s surprisingly, delightfully funny as the off-kilter conductor, who lets his pet parrot fly around the rehearsal space, prefers to pee in the ladies room (it’s cleaner), and has hair as wild as his ideas.

Likewise, Lola Kirke is a total gem as the show’s most relatable and endearing character (modeled after Tindall herself), Burrows is confident with just the right amount of pout, Malcolm McDowell is, well, Malcolm McDowell, and did I mention BERNADETTE PETERS plays the chair of the symphony’s board of directors? And add Mozart in the Jungle to the long list of shows that really allows the backdrop of New York City to shine.

Good early impressions aside, Mozart is hardly perfect, and I’m surprised that it beat out the brilliant Transparent (also on Amazon) for Best TV Comedy. While it’s impossible not to be charmed by Rodrigo, I worry his whole crazy artist schtick will get tiresome unless there’s more depth, and the show’s otherwise white AF cast is disappointing, especially when you consider, as NPR pointed out, that many American orchestras features players of  East Asian descent. Unfortunately, the Asian character given the most screen time is an administrative minion named Sharon, whose submissiveness is pretty stereotypical.

Despite its quirky sensibility and Bernal’s dynamic performance, arguably the show’s biggest selling points, the thing I personally find most appealing and watchable about the show so far is the character of Hailey, perhaps because her struggle to turn her passion into a career is a relatable one for so many who come to New York with a big dream and very little dollars. My hunch is that, no matter what happens with Mozart in the Jungle, she’s going to be a major star.

[Amazon: Mozart In The Jungle]